Nest partners with Colorado Energy Office on smart thermostat pilot

BOULDER — Nest, the smart thermostat company owned by Google, partnered with the Colorado Energy Office on a pilot to determine if a Nest thermostat could help low-income homes save on energy. The answer: yes.

The pilot, which was launched in May 2016 and ran through December 2017, looked at two groups. A control group had its homes weatherized, said Ryan Manzik, senior program manager at the energy office. Each weatherization that the energy office does for low-income homes is customized to the home and can include new insulation, appliances, programmable thermostats and whatever else that home could use to reduce its energy costs. The test group was also weatherized, but instead of programmable thermostats, they received Nest thermostats. The Nest thermostats use AI and machine learning to pick up when a home is occupied and when it isn’t and sets its temperatures accordingly to maximize savings.

The pilot results found that homes that were weatherized and had a Nest saved 18.4 percent on gas use compared to homes that weren’t. What is more, the homes that had a Nest saved 7 percent more on gas use than the homes that were weatherized but didn’t have a Nest. Nest homes also saved 9 percent on gas used specifically for heating compared to weatherized homes that didn’t have a Nest.

“We found it’s a cost-effective way of incremental savings,” Jeff Hamel, director of global energy and enterprise partnerships at Google, told BizWest. “Incremental translates to more money in pocket.”

The study itself stemmed from a desire by Nest to get its products into the hands of people who not just wanted to save some money but whose lives could be significantly better if they saved on energy and had more income because of those savings.

“There was a stigma out of the gate that it’s a high-priced product,” Hamel said of its smart thermostats. “We took a step back last year and saw this incredible tech that is saving money, are Energy Star-certified and making real impacts on energy bills and figure out how to broaden their reach and get it into the hands of folks who need it the most.”

To do so, and to test out whether Nest actually would help low-income homes, the company partnered with the Colorado Energy Office, which launched a pilot with about 250 thermostats.

In addition to showing that Nest could save on energy costs, other information was gleaned from the pilot, Manzik said.

For example, the study found that Nest was a user-friendly product that — despite being imbued with complex algorithms for machine learning — was more simple to use than programmable thermostats and actually worked best when clients “set it and forget it,” said Manzik. The study also confirmed that the low-income clients the pilot targeted were in their homes more and took fewer vacation than middle- and high-income residents. Only 5 percent of the smart thermostats installed were requested to be removed because of hardware or incompatibility issues. What is more, 81 percent of clients had WiFi in their homes, a significant fact in itself, Manzik said, because the energy office didn’t realize its clients had that level of WiFi penetration. But the study showed that for the 19 percent of homes that didn’t have WiFi, there wasn’t a significant difference in Nest’s efficacy. It was still able to save on costs, Hamel said, because of its occupancy sensor, which doesn’t require being connected to the internet to work.

Going forward, Nest said it has launched the pilot in an extended national partnership, called the Power Project. Locally, Nest is also working with public utilities to expand its savings capabilities. Manzik said the Colorado Energy Office is working on collecting data over a more extended period of time and has officially added Nest systems to its weatherization plans — homes can now get programmable thermostats or Nest smart thermostats.

As to why the pilot was done with the Colorado Energy Office, Manzik said Nest’s decision to run the tests in Colorado makes sense.

“The Colorado weatherization program is one of the top programs in the nation,” he said. “We’ve built a lot of working and political capital because of our strong processes and quality services. Other programs might focus on Weatherization 101; we have Weatherization 101, 201, 301. We are very dialed-in and not reactive in our program. We’re able to be proactive, open up our minds and be creative and innovative.”

Manzik added that in addition to quantifiable cost savings, lower energy usage is able to help individuals and the community.

“Regardless of income level, energy efficiency is better for everyone,” he said. “Whether we make better decisions or have it automated on our behalf, this helps to save money and reduce carbon emissions in the atmosphere.”

 

BOULDER — Nest, the smart thermostat company owned by Google, partnered with the Colorado Energy Office on a pilot to determine if a Nest thermostat could help low-income homes save on energy. The answer: yes.

The pilot, which was launched in May 2016 and ran through December 2017, looked at two groups. A control group had its homes weatherized, said Ryan Manzik, senior program manager at the energy office. Each weatherization that the energy office does for low-income homes is customized to the home and can include new insulation, appliances, programmable thermostats and whatever else that home could use to reduce its energy costs. The test group was also weatherized, but instead of programmable thermostats, they received Nest thermostats. The Nest thermostats use AI and machine learning to pick up when a home is occupied and when it isn’t and sets its temperatures accordingly to maximize savings.

The pilot results found that homes that were weatherized and had a Nest saved 18.4 percent on gas use compared to homes that weren’t. What is more, the homes that had a Nest saved 7 percent more on gas use than the homes that were weatherized but didn’t have a Nest. Nest homes also saved 9 percent on gas used specifically for heating compared to weatherized homes that didn’t have a Nest.

“We found it’s a cost-effective way of incremental savings,” Jeff Hamel, director of global energy and enterprise partnerships at Google, told BizWest. “Incremental translates to more money in pocket.”

The study itself stemmed…